April 14, 2009

Obama's predictable policy shift on Iran

Since his inauguration, President Barack Obama has rapidly moved to carry out, and possibly go beyond, a campaign promise - to open negotiations with Iran “without preconditions." Today's New York Times reports that the "U.S. May Drop Key Conditions for Iran Talks."

This is a concession to the Iranians - one that was to be expected. Soon after the new President took office, he made several overtures to the Iranians. These were clumsy and amateurish - and not surprisingly, rejected by the Iranian leadership.

During those first attempts to use his rhetorical skills and charm, the President unfortunately staked out a position from which he cannot do anything but make concessions. See my earlier assessment of these overtures: Memo to President on Iran and Obama and Iran - naïveté and the real world.

Obama has already made several concessions to the mullahs in Tehran. He has in essence recognized the Islamic Republic of Iran and rejected the idea of supporting regime change in Iran. That, though, was not enough for either President Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatolllah Khamenei. They demanded that Obama apologize for past American actions toward Iran and that he take actions to back up his words.

Not to disappoint, the President is pretty much doing what they asked. While at the G20 summit in London recently, Obama criticized his own country while on foreign soil, invited Iran to sit at the table to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and agreed to participate in European-sponsored negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Although the criticism of past American policy was fodder for the European audience, it indicated his desire to change directions in the world.

Now we read that the Obama administration may drop the demand that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program and agree to more inspections and timeline to reduce its nuclear activities. Of course, Iran will welcome this approach, claiming that dialogue has always been the preferred option.

How is this potential shift in American policy being received elsewhere? The Israelis, already leery over Obama's seeming shift away from traditional American support for the Jewish state, have labeled the new policy as acquiescence. Even U.S. congressmen from the President's own party expressed concern that Iran might use the diplomatic talks as a mechanism to gain time.

That concern is valid since this is exactly how it will be viewed in Tehran: yet another concession from a naive American president that will allow us to appear reasonable and open to discussion. While the diplomats are talking, or talking about talking, the centrifuges at Natanz continue to spin.

Here's my prediction. Just about the time the diplomats will have arrived at a "framework" for a compromise on the Iranian nuclear issue - this may take years - Iran will reveal that it has a nuclear weapon.